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clear understanding of the subject. Indeed few things have more perplexed religious controversies and discussions, than want of accuracy in speaking of justification and sanctification, and carefully keeping the ideas of them distinct.
The question, therefore, concerning the holy nature of saving faith, has nothing to do with the doctrine of justification, but belongs entirely to another topick in theology. We are "justi“ fied freely by the grace of God;” or by free mercy, entirely contrary to our deservings : we are justified by the righteousness and atoning blood of Christ, as the meritorious ground of our pardon and title to eternal life: and we are justified by faith alone; because faith alone constitutes our relation to Christ, that we may be “ made the righteousness of God in him.” According to the holy and good law of our righteous Sovereign, and the covenant of works, the least imperfection or failure in obedience condemns us; all the holiness we can ever possess, with all the obedience we have performed, weighs not an atom in the opposite scale ; and to the last moment of life we need free forgiveness of every defect, to whatever degree of sanctification we have attained, or how many good works soever we have done. 66 Cursed is
every one who continueth not in all things 66 written in the book of the law to do them.”. Not only the new convert, or the feeble believer in his first actings of faith in Christ, is excluded from taking any encouragement from his incipient sanctification, if he be capable of ascertaining its existence: but the most advanced Christian, after half a century spent in holy obedience, and zealous endeavours to glorify the Saviour and serve his generation; paring himself and his best duties with the perfect standard, must exclaim, “I am all as an
66. unclean thing, and all my righteousnesses
are as filthy rags.” Even perfect holiness of heart, and obedience in conduct, could do nothing towards atoning for past sins, or redeeming the forfeited inheritance: and if Paul's justification at the tribunal of Christ, depended, as its meritorious ground, on the last expression of his love and zeal, when he was expiring as a martyr, he must be condemned by the holy law of God. From first to last we must be justified by mere mercy and grace, through the righteousness and atoning blood of Emmanuel, and by faith alone: nor can sanctification, whether more or less advanced, avail any thing towards justification. If this was well considered and fully understood, many plausible objections to the holy nature of saving faith, which suppose that it interferes with the doctrines of imputed righteousness and free justification, must fall to the ground, and would require no further answer,
6 Now to him that worketh not, but believeth “ in him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is “ accounted for righteousness.” These words of the apostle have been greatly misunderstood, in this controversy : for it may as fairly be inferred from them, that believers never work at all, for any purpose, or from any motive; as that they are in all senses absolutely ungodly, when God justifieth them.-The sinner, when he believes in Christ, « labours for the meat “ which endureth unto everlasting life, which " the Son of man shall give him :" he “works 6 out his own salvation with fear and trem
bling:” he gives diligence to make his call“ ing and election sure;" he is “ zealous of good works,” “ fruitful in
“ fruitful in all the 'works of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, “ unto the glory and praise of God;" yea " al* ways abounding in the work of the Lord.” But, notwithstanding this, he not only ceases to work, in respect of justification, when he first applies for an interest in the righteousness of Christ; but, amidst all his “ diligence to the “ full assurance of hope unto the end,” to glorify God, and to do good to mankind; he never works at all, at least allowedly, in dependence on his own doings, or in order to add them to " the righteousness of God by faith.”
In like manner he is ungodly, in himself, according to the law, by his own sincere confession, and in the unerring judgment of God; not only at the moment when he is first justified, but during the whole period that he lives by faith in Christ for justification.-His incipient and imperfect godliness is not at all noticed in this respect : yet his coming to Christ with earnest desires of salvation, and his humble, obedient, and willing return to God through him, essentially distinguish his character from that of such persons, as say unto God, “ depart “ from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy
ways ;” and that of all others, who are in every respect absolutely ungodly, and have a no 66 fear of God before their eyes.”
Whatever in any degree accords to the law of God is so far holy: but an external or relative holiness falls not under our present enquiry. The moral law is spiritual, and takes cognizanceof men's spirits : whatever therefore, in the state of our hearts, answers to the spirituality of the precept is holy.. The least intermixture of unholiness, in the best and most spiritual exercises of the heart, or actions of the life, condemns us according to the legal covenant: but the actual existence
of the smallest portion of a right and spiritual disposition, if it could be ascertained, would prove the possessor regenen
rate; being one of the “ things which accom
'pany salvation." Abraham might justly have been condemned, and needed merciful forgiveness for the weakness and wavering of that very faith by which he was justified: while the small measure of obedience, which Sarah rendered, in reverencing her husband; though she laughed in unbelief, denied her crime, and was sharply rebuked for it, is noticed with approbation by Peter, as a specimen of the “ manner, in which “ holy women who trusted in God adorned 66 themselves *.” So entirely distinct are the questions concerning holiness, and concerning the way of justification; except as the sanctification of the Spirit evidences our interest in Christ by faith.
The case of Abraham, to which the apostle refers in the words before cited, is peculiarly unfavourable to the conclusions which many deduce from them. For that patriarch had walked with God for many years before the transaction, concerning which the sacred historian records, that “ He believed in God, and it was accounted “ to him for righteousness." Yet on this passage the apostle grounds his remark, “ Now to 66 him who worketh not, but believeth in him " that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is ac“ counted to him for righteousness.” But will any man maintain, that Abraham had been, even to that time, in all respects ungodly, and an enemy to God? And that he had never performed one good work in all the preceding years of his walking with God? Yet this must be the consequence of the absolute interpretation of this remarkable text. The same might also be shewn respecting David, at the time when he
* 1 Pet, iii, 6.
penned the thirty-second Psalm; to which the apostle referred as another illustration of his subject.
Every degree of humility, fear of God, desire of happiness in his favour and service, love to his perfections and those things which he approves, hatred of what he abhors and forbids; simple belief of his testimony, reliance on his promises, and regard to his authority and glory, if it be genuine, accords to the spiritual precept of the law, and is so far holy. A transgressor, if renewed to a right spirit, and encouraged to hope for mercy, would plead guilty, apply for pardon, and approve of the most humbling and self-denying way of reconciliation, which the glory of his offended God required.
Sanctifying, and sanctification, as these words relate to our present subject, denote the renewal of an unholy creature to a right spirit; and are applicable to every stage of this renovation, from its commencement in regeneration, to its completion in glory.-But no measure of sanctification can possibly form any part of a sinner's justifying righteousness : because while it is imperfect, that imperfection needs forgiveness; and when perfected, it can make no atonement for past sins, nor can it merit eternal life. It however distinguishes a living faith from that which is dead and worthless; it forms our meetness for heaven; it enables us to glorify and prepares us to rejoice in God; and it is a distinct part of our free salvation, no less valuable than justification itself;--as distinct as a gratuitous cure of the jail-fever would be from the pardon of a felony, and the grant of an inheritance. If then the opinion, that saving faith is holy, even in its first and feeble actings, could countenance self-righteous confidence; more complete sanctification